The 10 Best L.A. Guns Songs


Today, Matador announced that it would be launching a new singles club and the inaugural release would be Stephen Malkmus and one of the bands currently calling itself L.A. Guns (more on that in a minute) will be releasing a split 7-inch on Matador where they cover each others’ songs. The hard-rock outfit, led by the guitarist Tracii Guns, will take on Malkmus’s “Gorgeous George” (from this year’s Mirror Traffic) while Malkmus will return the favor by covering “Wheels Of Fire,” off L.A. Guns’ 1989 album Cocked And Loaded. Exciting!

This seems have stemmed in part from a flareup earlier this year where Malkmus wanted to call his album L.A. Guns. Part of the reason for the album not being named such was the fact that right now there are actually two incarnations of the band touring the country: the one releasing the split single, which contains original guitarist (and band namesake) Guns, and the one with “classic lineup” frontman Phil Lewis and drummer Steve Riley. (The latter incarnation is playing Bowery Electric on January 29.) As the lawyer (who cited Wikipedia?!) noted during the email chain regarding the possible name-borrowing:

We also note the helpful fact that, according to Wikipedia, because of personnel changes and disputes, there are now two groups using the name “L.A. Guns,” both including former members of the group from its heyday. (Also, on 11/24/08, one of the factions of the group tried to cancel the above registration, but then gave up by 8/23/10.) Normally, in order to have trademark rights, there must be a single source for products or services marketed under the mark. That is not the case here. Thus, if one of the groups were to send you a demand letter, the first point you would make would be that if consumers are distinguishing between two groups called “L.A. Guns,” they certainly can distinguish between one or more groups called “L.A. Guns” and an album called “LA Guns” that prominently bears the name of an artist with a completely different name.

In the end, we cannot guarantee you that neither of the two L.A. Guns would not send you a demand letter. But given the state of their mark, and assuming you take the steps outlined above, we believe it would be a manageable risk for SM to call his album “LA Guns.” (We assume that if SM were ever deposed, he would say that he did not choose “LA Guns” as a reference to the group. If that is not correct, then the risk would be substantially higher.)

Or, as a record executive an associate of Malkmus’s put it:

I can just see the two factions healing their schism and coming after you with both barrels blazin. These headbangers are angry and vindictive. They’ve been looking for revenge since ’92 and let’s face it— you weren’t far from the scene of the crime.

1992 being, of course, one of the years during which alt-rock ascended, and bands of L.A. Guns’ ilk took a back seat on rock radio.

It is kind of a shame that there’s so much confusion about all this, because in their late-’80s/tip-of-the-’90s prime L.A. Guns were if not one of the best hard-rock acts proffering their wares on Headbangers Ball (and Dial MTV), at least somewhere in the top five. (Other candidates: Faster Pussycat, Skid Row.) Lewis’s British-accented yawp and Guns’ frenetic riffing played off each other incredibly well, and the band had learned enough from punk to make their best songs seem absolutely economical even as they brushed the four-minute mark.

Their biggest hit, “The Ballad Of Jayne,” peaked at No. 33 on the Hot 100 and was an MTV fixture for a bit; it still gets a fair amount of notice on the nostalgia circuit. They had other songs, too, that are worthy of your time if you happen to be into seedy, attitude-laden hard rock; of course, the lyrical chronicles of the seediest parts of Los Angeles living (particularly all the parts about the women who did them wrong/who they did wrong back) make me blanch a bit as a 36-year-old, but the tracks still sound good, even when wrapped within the sort of classic-hard-rock production that would fall out of favor as bands of Malkmus’s ilk replaced those sorts of bands in the pantheon of popular rock acts of the day. Then again, in those days, I was perfectly content listening to L.A. Guns and Pavement back-to-back—so maybe things haven’t changed with my ears that much.

Here are 10 L.A. Guns songs worth your time.

10. “Nothin’ Better To Do”

I can’t really imagine mother-daughter bonding to this tale of debauchery the way that the person who crafted this video-tribute apparently does, but, you know, to each their own. (Lead vocals on this track are handled by bass player Kelly Nickels.)

9. “Girl You Turn Me On” The leadoff track from the band’s 1999 album Shrinking Violet, the only full-length of the band’s to have Love/Hate frontman Jizzy Pearl handling vocal duties. (Love/Hate, by the way, were another band from that era that’s been criminally overlooked—Blackout in the Red Room and Wasted In America blend stoner-metal bleariness, frenetic riffs, and undeniable pop appeal into fine slabs of hard rock.) Fun fact: This was one of the first 10 songs I downloaded from Napster back in the day, because I couldn’t find Shrinking Violet in any of the record stores near me.

8. “Sleazy Come Easy Go”

It took me a while to figure out that the noun “Peruvian” on this track from the band’s second album Cocked And Loaded was not referring to the ethnicity of one of its supporting characters.

7. “Sex Action”

Quite the YouTube search results for this one if you don’t specify the band name. Good thing I work for an alt-weekly!

6. “Kiss My Love Goodbye”

Hollywood Vampires, the band’s third album, was a bit on the bloated side, but this snappy kiss-off has Lewis at his sassiest.

5. “Rip And Tear”

Just, you know, a particularly feisty song about getting some late-night action. The way it accelerates during the fade-out at the end implies that things worked out!

4. “Bitch Is Back”

3. “Down In The City”

Down In The City (Album Version)

I always twin these two tracks in my mind; they opened and closed side two of my cassette copy of the band’s first, self-titled album. “Down” is probably the stompiest entrant in the L.A. Guns catalog, this track is equal parts Aerosmith swagger, soccer-hooligan bluster, and upper-fret freakout. And hey, harmonica solo!

2. “Never Enough”

What was it about certain bands that wanted to evoke The Ed Sullivan Show with their music videos? Then again, you know, universal lyrical themes (girls who want too much but won’t put out!) and classic motifs, etc.

1. “One More Reason”

Probably the ne plus ultra of L.A. Guns songs, this one has a screeching guitar solo, menacing lyrics, and a video where shit blows up real good. Save me baaayybaaayyyyyy!